NATIVE Exclusive: Ozedikus talks upbringing, early musical days & growth as a producer
"I’ve grown musically and in how I feel the music"
"I’ve grown musically and in how I feel the music"
When Ozedikus talks about how the earliest years of his life were split between worrying about making it to school in his little village in Edo and contributing his quota on his maternal grandparents’ farm, he does it with a casual acceptance that his calm speaking voice only amplifies. To the producer, that routine was one of those things. In fact, when he speaks about all of his growing up years, the move from Edo to Lagos to live with his military father, moving into the barracks, and moving out of the barracks, he recounts it surgically, giving the details in calm, measured bits without over-romanticising or glossing over details. “That’s just how life was,” he remembers, his voice carrying evenly over the distance bridged by our Zoom call.
All these experiences have directly – and indirectly – carried Ozedikus, born Igbinoba Osaze, into the path of music. Sometime after moving outside Ojo Barracks, his dad urged him to get piano lessons and it began his fascination with music, starting with playful competitions among his contemporaries in the area before music – playing instruments for churches – morphed into a source of livelihood as he transitioned to teenagehood. Searching for a medium to further express himself delivered Ozedikus to a DIY studio in the Ojo area called Much More Studio, where met a young Crayon and Soft; united by a voracious appetite for music, Ozedikus and Crayon formed a musical alliance that was going to change their life and take them to the center of Nigerian pop.
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Almost halfway into our conversation, there is barely a pause or stop to reflect on Ozedikus’ end when I ask him what he considers the biggest song he has made is. “Dumebi”, the soft-spoken producer offers earnestly. It is not a stretch of imagination to say that even within afropop’s galaxy of jet-heeled breakouts, shooting stars, and viral moments, “Dumebi” signalled a subtle change in the make-up of the genre. While the song in itself is primarily a cathartic expression of Rema’s angst and lust, its scattered drum patterns and flitting melodies boil down to Ozedikus’ inspired production and it’s almost comical when you know that beat was rejected by its primary recipient.
Setbacks and rejections nonetheless, Ozedikus’ stock is on the rise and he is seeking newer ways to express himself musically, while insulating himself from the cut-throat nature of the music business. Last year, he scored another hit with Rema courtesy of the singer’s coming-of-age anthem, “Woman”. Through it all, Ozedikus still just wants to make the music that makes you feel something.
NATIVE: Tell me about your upbringing and what that was like?
Ozedikus: I grew up in Edo state. I was living with my grandparents from my mum’s side. My mum was a teacher in Benin and I’d just stay with her parents while she was working. I stayed there till I was about seven and that’s when I came to Lagos to be with my father. While I was in the village, I used to go to school part-time and work on the farm part time. I attended primary one-three in the village and when I came to Lagos I had to go back to nursery two because the standard of education in Lagos was quite different from how it was in the village.
Where did you move to in Lagos?
When I came to Lagos, my dad was still in the military so we lived in Ojo Barracks. After a few years, we moved to Okokomaiko. We lived there for a while before we moved to our permanent house around Iyana-Ira.
You talked about your dad being in the military, did that have any impact on your upbringing?
I think the biggest one was that for the earliest stages of my life, I wasn’t living with my dad. I was about nine years old before I started staying with him constantly. Also, living with him in the barracks had an impact on me because living there is a totally different way of life. A lot of people who lived there eventually don’t turn out right because of certain things and there’s also the stereotypes. Also, there are specific ways my dad being in the military has affected me that I can’t necessarily explain, but I know it had an impact on me.
How did you get into music?
I wasn’t musically-inclined till around JSS2. The church my parents attended had a branch that was right in my compound and they needed someone to play the keyboard and my dad suggested I learned how to play. They made an arrangement for someone to teach me how to play and after learning for a month, my teacher had to leave because he was a touring artist. He didn’t come back for a while and I just started linking up with friends in the area because a lot of people in the area were interested in music at that time, it was a trendy thing to do. It became a little competition to see who the best keyboardist, guitarist, and drummer was.
How did it evolve from you playing at churches to you becoming a professional musician?
Initially I was just playing in churches for the thrill of it but over time I found out that churches were willing to pay for me to play, so I was playing for different churches and getting paid. That was the first way that I was earning from music. Over time, when I went to school – an affiliation program at Federal University of Technology, Minna, that I did in Lagos – I saw that more churches were willing to pay me. I also became known as one of the top keyboardists in my area. Some of my friends in the area who were producers usually took me to the studio to play the keyboard for them during sessions and that’s how I found out about production.
Do you remember the time frame when that transition happened?
I think the first time I stepped into a studio was around 2014. That was the first time I saw how it all worked and played the keyboard for my friends in the studio. It took me an extra two years before I developed an interest in making beats because around that time to even get into production you need to have a laptop and some kit, and it was not easily accessible for me at that time. It was when I had access to a laptop two years later that I started learning production.
I read that you used to make graphic designs, how did you get into that?
It was way back before I started producing because I had a laptop and I was trying to do different things with my laptop. Usually, I’d go to my friend’s studio and when they were done working, I’d tell the artist that if they needed artwork for their music, I could do it. That’s how I started getting closer to the studio and it just spurred my interest in production.
What did your early beats sound like?
It was mostly gospel music because that’s where I was coming from. Gospel music and hip-hop were the biggest influences for me. A lot of people used to say my production sounded like church music and I think it’s just what happens when people transition from making music in the church to secular music. Over time, I just evolved and it helped that before I fully got into production my major inspiration was Masterkraft. Back then, he was a pianist for Tim Godfrey, and we used to score them to play at our own events. When I saw him transition to production, I knew it was something I could also try out. I observed him and started tweaking my sound to make it sound less churchy.
What musicians were you working with as you made that journey into production?
Most of them were just my friends in the area, but I remember working with Crayon and Soft because we all started in the same studio (Much More Studio) at Ojo Barracks.
You’ve worked with Crayon that long?
Yes, when I was living at Ojo Barracks I didn’t have a studio to work at. I was working in the church mostly and some guys would just walk past and they used to enjoy what I made. A friend found out and said he’d take me to a proper studio to make music. He took me to Much More Studio and I met a lot of people there including Crayon. I was still learning and they taught me how to arrange recordings. Soft used to live around that area and he came around occasionally. I met Crayon while he was recording a song there and we just started working together. The first song we made was taken to radio stations and it was rejected because the quality wasn’t nice. He came back and told us to make a proper song which we did, and that’s just how our relationship started.
What was the earliest song that gave you mainstream buzz?
It was through Crayon. His song was the first one I produced that got played on radio, it was a song called “Stay Loyal”. He took the song to City FM and they tweeted it and tagged us. That’s how it all started. We did two other songs that got plays and that’s when I started getting calls from other people.
How did you get to meet Don Jazzy?
Around the time I was working with Crayon, I left the area and moved to Ojodu Berger in 2016. I was an in-house producer for a label and Crayon used to come around to work with me. We did a song then and it started to pop. A friend of Crayon played the song at the Mavin office and BabyFresh heard it. He called Crayon and asked him to come over with me. They asked us to play songs we’d worked on and we played them a number of songs. It was the day we also met Don Jazzy and we just had a conversation and left. From then, we started working on songs and sending them to them. All this happened from 2017 to 2018.
Was that also the same timeline when you started working with Rema?
I met Rema in 2018 when I was visiting Crayon on the island. Crayon was already living with the Mavin guys because he was under development and I was still on the mainland. I hadn’t seen him for a few months and I was on the Island for something and just decided to go see Cray. That was the day I met Rema and after a while I started living with them. We just vibed and started working since then.
Rema once said that “Dumebi” was rejected by another artist, what do you remember about making it?
An artist reached out to me and asked me to make a beat around an idea. I went to a friend’s place and worked overnight and one of the beats I made was the one for “Dumebi”. But apparently the beat wasn’t what the artist was looking for because it was sounding R&B-ish. I sent the beat to another artist and he said he liked it but when I got to the Mavin studio that evening, I told Rema what happened and he told me to send the beat to him. Rema liked it, but since someone already liked it, he said if the person used it, we’d remake the beat. When they wanted to put out the song, I hit up the artist to know if he used the beat, but I didn’t get any response and that’s just what happened.
How would you describe your style as a producer now?
First off, a lot has changed. It has also come down to access to certain types of equipment and tools that a street producer might not have access to. Working with Mavin and BabyFresh, I’ve also gotten experienced; same thing with Altims. They are super-talented and are always willing to share ideas with me. My style now is just trying to make great music. When I got to Mavin I remember how I was sounding; listening to Altims and BabyFresh just made me better. I’ve also grown musically and in how I feel music.
Moving to the business side of things, there’s a reputation for Nigerian musicians for to not respect the producer’s input, how do you handle that?
I’ve been lucky to have met the right people at the right time because before I started working with Mavin, I didn’t know much about the business side of music, it was just making beats and getting paid for me. The first songs I did with them, I saw the release format and every detail being taken care of. I asked questions and it was explained to me and that’s why I’m always grateful to them because a lot of people I had worked with in the past knew I didn’t have this knowledge and took advantage of that. If Mavin also wanted to take advantage of me, I’d still be in the dark, but they didn’t and I know what’s right now.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently, I’m compiling my project. I plan to drop a single first and see how it goes. It’s already in the works but it could be this year or anytime in the future, depending on how the plans work.
@walenchi Is A Lagos-Based Writer Interested In The Intersection Of Popular Culture, Music, And Youth Lifestyle.